Wednesday, July 16, 2014

'Know Your Patterns' - Paisley

For this week's edition of 'Know Your Patterns,' we are taking a quick divergence from your more basic and fundamental menswear patterns to look at something a bit more unique, if not any less classic: Paisley.

Paisley is an especially interesting pattern due to it's extensive history and widely varied application and use. Depending on where you're reading, the pattern dates as far back as Babylon circa 2200 BC or as recently as Persian and Indian cultures in the 200's AD. The pattern is defined by a characteristic twisted teardrop shape, the origin of which is widely speculated. Some think it to be a vague mixture of a floral pattern and the shape of a cypress leaf, while others link it more specifically to other natural shapes like a budding palm frond or a pine cone.

Through the ages, the pattern spread, gaining popularity in Europe as it was traded en masse by the East India Company in the 1600's, shortly after which it began to be produced locally in Marseilles, England, Holland, and other European countries.

In time, the town of Paisley, Scotland became a central producer and eventually the namesake of the design in Western cultures (more historically, the pattern was called Boteh Jegheh by the Persian cultures in which it originated).

Later, paisley was widely embraced by the hippie, 'flower child' culture that latched on to Indian and Middle Eastern aesthetics, especially following the Beatles famous pilgrimage to India in the late 1960's.

Throughout it's history, the paisley pattern has been applied to any number of goods, from fine woven textiles of silk embroidered with gold and silver threads, to printed twill, to ceramics and pottery, Persian rugs, even garden landscaping. Among the menswear circles, it's most commonly found on neckties and pocket squares, although folks with bolder tastes will mix it into shirting, trousers, and sport coats as well.

To some, any mention of the pattern brings to mind these bright, psychedelic applications and are associated with other cheesy 70's icons like shag carpet and bell-bottoms, although recently there has been some return to a more classic and subtle use of the pattern.

Still, even today, the pattern is designed in a wide variety of styles. My favorite tend to be the more minimalist applications, with just the characteristic 'leaf' on a plain background. Some of the busier designs can veer towards the garish side of style, and should probably be avoided, but you can find some ornate patterns that really recall the Persian  heritage behind the design and come off really sharply when used in moderation (as in, on a tie - not a full shirt or sport coat).

Below are a range of options to inject some paisley into your life:

First, we have the uber-budget option, turning (as usual) to the Tie Bar, which clocks in at just $15. First is an all-blue option that is subtle and an easy entry point that won’t be hard to style:

Relic Paisley in Navy Cotton | The Tie Bar - $15

I’m also kind of into this brighter green fabric, which is a bit more untraditional, but very summery and season-appropriate.
Tears of Paisley in Emerald Linen | The Tie Bar - $15

Slightly up the ladder, J. Press offers literally dozens of paisley ties in a wide variety of colors and scales. This one, in a simpler blue and yellow color scheme, is one of my favorites (and currently on sale, which is a bonus):
Foulard Paisley in Navy | J. Press - $41.70 (on sale)

If you want to try out a more ornate pattern, ‘Ancient Madder’ ties are intricate but in darker, dustier colors and usually in a twill weave, as opposed to something in bright colors on a shiny satin fabric, which I think tends to look more tacky. This option from Brooks Brothers isn’t cheap, but isn’t wildly expensive and is a fine, classy example:
Ancient Madder Large Paisley Print Tie in Navy | Brooks Brothers - $57.50 (on sale)

Of course, you can always go big and get a shirt or jacket with an all-over paisley print. In my opinion, this is much easier to do with casual gear, where bold prints won’t veer out of appropriate business-casual attire (or other more structured situations). This short-sleeve, lightweight shirt from Denim & Supply might be a good place to start (and at under $50, not a big financial risk).

Paisley Woven Shirt | Denim & Supply by Ralph Lauren - $50 (on sale)

Do you have any paisley in your wardrobe? Getting funky with any big bold prints? Share in the comments!

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